On the Pulse and a Cheese Dilemma: Lentil Salad with Feta, Mint and Orange

Lentil Salad with Mint, Feta, and Oranges

So this lovely little bunch of mint arrived in my box, two boxes ago. And then sat in my fridge for over a week because I didn’t know what I wanted to do with it. Well, I did know what I wanted to do with it, but it was impossible. I wanted to make a yummy lentil salad with feta and mint, only the lentils and the feta are so heavy that they need a light, moist addition like tomato or cucumber. But it is not the season for tomatoes and cucumbers, and I get so much produce in my box that I’m really trying not to buy extra, save for onions, garlic, and lemons. So I pondered, and the mint sat in my crisper (which apparently has remarkable powers of crisping, lucky for indecisive me). Finally I decided to improvise and see what happened, and walked over to my local cheese shop for some feta.

“Do you carry local feta?,” I asked my neighborhood cheesemonger, hoping he might even carry feta from one of the local cheese companies I’ve been researching that seem to treat their animals humanely.

“Why would I do that?,” he almost sneered back to me. Seriously. I am not exaggerating for dramatic effect here. “The best feta is made from sheep’s milk, or a mixture of sheep and goat.”

I nodded back at him. I’m not cheese-illiterate, I know this. Impatiently he continued. “No sheep around here.”

“What about goat’s milk feta?,” I asked, politely, though perhaps through slightly gritted teeth.

“There is no feta from around here that is of the quality we would carry in this shop,” was basically the patronizing response. (I’m paraphrasing a little because by now I had that kind of shame-induced adrenaline rush that makes it hard to remember things later.) A lengthy discourse on French cheese, how I should not be worried because all French farmers treat their animals well, and an underlying total disregard for any reason why I want might to favor local products followed.

The whole time he was talking I was saying to myself, “I can’t wait to get out of here!” but somehow, towards the end of my lesson, I found myself buying a small piece of French feta. It was either that or forgo the feta and head back to square one with the mint, or get in the car and drive to another store, and I was exhausted.

This was my first foray into a local/sustainable/humane commitment in my cheese buying. Cheese is, at this point in my life, a real staple food for me, both as an anchor in my cooking and as a source of comfort and satiety. But I’m also basically at the point where I don’t feel right buying cheese anymore unless I am putting some serious consideration into the conditions it comes from.

It was helpful to get a taste of what I may be up against – it kind of blows my mind that there’s anyone left in San Francisco who is both into food and at the same time doesn’t give a crap about sourcing locally. My cheesemonger’s rant about how he refuses to eat anything that doesn’t taste good (with the implication that any kinds of limits, like trying to eat local or humane food, will interfere with his RIGHT to tasty food) reminded me so much of Anthony Bourdain’s vitriolic attack on vegetarians in his book, Kitchen Confidential. When I first read Kitchen Confidential I felt the same kind of shame and confusion I felt in the cheese shop today, like it was somehow contradictory and even absurd for me to love food, to adore it so passionately, while at the same time having principles that might put any kind of limits on my eating.

Happily for me, the folks over at Hezbollah Tofu, my new favoritest project in the world EVER (check out their site if you’ve never seen it) have come up with a funny, “foodie,” not-bitter-but-grounded response to Bourdain (or “Tony” as they call him), which in turn inspires me to try to stay a little more grounded in interactions like the one I had today.

ANYWAYS, in case you’re really just here for the lentils, I come at last to the very happy conclusion to my confusing day. I reviewed what I had in my box to find an acceptable tomato substitute and decided to try oranges. Which turn out to be delicious in a lentil-mint-feta salad. The recipe is below.

And this post got to participate in a fun food-blog event, Waiter, There’s Something in My… Pulses, a round-up of recipes featuring pulses (legumes) hosted over at Cook Sister!

Recipe follows… Continue reading

A bowl of gratitude

I Am DIY Rice Bowl

A few times a year I’ll become obsessed with a particular dish from a particular restaurant. My appetite tends to be a tumultuous and fickle thing, and some days I’ll parade every food I can think of before my mental stomach and only to have each one met by nausea. It is then that my thoughts turn to the magic dish, whatever concoction it is that has become, not just an obsession, but somehow the only thing my body finds acceptable. Right now that panacea-on-a-plate is the absurdly named I Am Accepting Sushi Rice Bowl from a restaurant called Cafe Gratitude.

Cafe Gratitude is a kind of pricey, mostly raw, entirely vegan restaurant with three locations around the Bay Area. The general response around town to CG’s very particular aesthetic seems to be a mixture of disdain, confusion, and either worshipful or grudging appreciation of the food. Be that as it may, that singular rice bowl has become, for me, an addiction.

I crave this dish to the point that I really can’t be running off to spout affirmations and spend $10 every time I want a warm spoonful of nutty red rice with kale and avocado that feels in my mouth like the superpowered pinnacle of all that is healthy and nourishing. I even tried sneaking a look at the recipe given in the I Am Grateful cookbook, for sale at all CG retail outlets, but the recipe was quite clearly not the one used by the restaurant. Today I happened to come across a gorgeous post on 101 Cookbooks with a recipe for Poached Eggs Over Rice, and since this was almost what I wanted, but still not quite the thing, I was inspired to call the cafe and just ask them what’s in that bowl of Acceptance.

This turned out to lead to one of those magical, karmic CSA-box experiences. Rory over at CG very nicely looked up for me the components in the dressing, which was the heretofore missing piece. And so I realized I was going to have to make my reproduction without scallions, cucumber, avocado, and orange juice – and that’s a lot of flavor elements to lose. The avocado I was already planning to substitute with poached egg, but the orange juice was especially sad, since my palate immediately recognized OJ as vital to the brightness of the dish.

But when I headed off to see if I had any greens in my as-yet unpacked box, I found that not only did I have a lovely bunch of collards, but that this week’s box also brought two unexpected ingredients: a bunch of fat scallions and three navel oranges!

In short, this dish turned out amazing, easily equal to if not tastier than the original, and well able to satisfy those cravings with very little effort. And so from now on I think you’ll find that, if I’m going to be declaring aloud my general state of acceptance, I’m going to be doing it in my pajamas.

The recipe for the I Am DIY Rice Bowl (modified from the 101 Cookbooks recipe) can be found below the more… tag. Continue reading